Table of Contents:
- LMS Software Suitable for Small Businesses
- Top Learning Management Software Options for Small Businesses
- Comparing the best small business learning management systems
- Common small business LMS features
- Match LMS to your Business Needs
- Future Proof Your LMS Software
- Be Prepared for your LMS Software
Many small businesses have a big need for employee training and certification. Keeping track of an educational program can be a difficult prospect, though. Which employees need training, and which have already taken it? Who’s certified, and when do their credentials expire? Finally, is it easy for your employees to get the training they need?
That’s where learning management software (LMS) systems come in. LMS platforms used to be cumbersome and expensive, but newer offerings are easier to use, and they cost less, too. Now that these LMS systems fall within small business owners’ reach, be sure you know how to select the right learning management system for your needs.
LMS Software Suitable for Small Business
LMS vendors historically focused on selling to big enterprise companies, but now vendors offer LMS features designed for small businesses. “The technology has been made much easier for the learner to use,” says Jason Corsello, senior vice president of strategy and corporate development at Cornerstone OnDemand.
Whereas LMS solutions once delivered online training with an eye toward compliance, times have changed. “Now it’s much more self-directed,” Corsello says. “It’s friendlier to people in small business organizations trying to get the training they want.” Not only has system design evolved, the software complexity has been greatly reduced. A decade ago, implementing LMS systems typically took six months and cost upwards of $50,000.
“Companies have improved their SaaS [software as a service] offerings,” explains Dan Medakovic, vice president of learning solutions at Blatant Media Corporation, makers of Absorb LMS. “Now the vendor does most of the heavy lifting.” Cloud-based LMS providers have reduced implementation workloads, and most deployments no longer require the horsepower of a large IT team.
Comparing the best small business learning management systems
Top learning management software options for small businesses
If you’re fairly new to the LMS area, you’ll quickly learn there’s a distinction between software to create and package training to sell to other businesses and software to develop your course content for in-house use.
Docebo is among the foremost examples of the latter. As well as having one of the most attractive and intuitive user interfaces in this market, it has a very healthy ecosystem of third party integration and a robust out-of-the-box feature set.
Better yet is the means to gamify course content, awarding badges for completing courses that appear on the leaderboard of an organisation and help promote the friendly competition that gives your people an incentive to complete courses. Admins can also design the badges from scratch and really tailor them to the course.
The unique selling point of TalentLMS is the extent to which you can make it your own. Once you select and install your TalentLMS build you can customize it much further than you can most of its competitors, building a custom homepage with your own branding like logos and colour schemes as well as a custom domain name.
It also supports accessibility from any device, including offline activity support in the mobile app. It’s multilingual, meets the European GDPR compliance security standards and conferencing/collaboration tools and payment gateways to on-sell your course content are easy to add.
Most users who investigate learning management software assume Blackboard is suited only to schools and academia, and while it serves that market very well, there’s a lot to recommend it to the commercial sphere as well.
It’s strength is its connectivity with other systems and platforms like Blackboard Collaborate, to enable multi-user collaboration, Blackboard Connect, to enable notifications on a system-wide scale and Blackboard Intelligence, the analytics engine that tracks user enrolment, engagement and retention. It also includes a wide variety of content from commercial education publishers, which augments your own course design.
One of the few LMS products aiming directly at business rather than academia, SkyPrep has an easy-to-use course creation tool the company promises lets you build a course within minutes. It might not be that tall a claim depending on your materials, because you have the capability to upload a variety of file types including PDFs, Microsoft Office files, multimedia, video and embedded links. Once online, those assets can easily be transposed to other courses, cutting down the time it takes to put together new content next time.
It integrates with a service called OpenSesame, which gives you access to over 10,000 pre-built courses you can import directly into your SkyPrep deployment, and there are plugins for Zoom, BigBlueButton, ClickMeeting and other webinar platforms to deliver courses online seamlessly.
It also takes a lot of the manual admin work out of your hands by automating email reminders about next stages and deadlines and generating the employee’s passing certificate once they’re complete.
Few other systems match LearnDash for the depth and number of its features, which is one of the reasons it’s so popular. Drag and drop course builders are common and some other players make theirs just as intuitive as LearnDash, but the sheer array of elements you can place in course content is kind of dazzling.
Whether it’s lessons and topics, videos that include autoplay cues timed for the topic, quizzes and assignments, lesson timers, prerequisite knowledge notes, drop-fed content, certificates and badges (gamification) or forums, LearnDash already contains almost everything you’ll need for a comprehensive course.
Once built, it almost seems a shame to not try to monetize your course content to other companies even if you’ve designed them for your own organisation, because doing so is just so simple. Learn Dash includes native payment integration with PayPal, or you can connect it to any number of third party ecommerce platforms to add membership database, subscription tiers or discounts.
Common small business LMS features
There are learning management software products around that let you dig into background code to create course content, but you’ll need a decent amount of programming experience behind you to go down that route.
Any modern LMS system worth its salt will make it easy to create content on the page. More often than not, it will have a straightforward drag and drop interface through which you can select and arrange elements for maximum visual impact, and the capabilities it presents should make sense to the newbie course designer and expert alike.
Courses themselves should be collected and presented in a no-nonsense dashboard that gives you either direct or easy-to-find access to timelines, analytics and other critical aspects of running digital learning.
Integration with materials sources
If your needs are more complicated than most you can get very lost in the weeds either coming up with original content or finding content elsewhere to somehow force into the LMS sandbox despite file format disparities or even rights issues.
Instead, you should think of your LMS as a content hub, into which you can place source material from all over the online world. It can be as easy as setting a hyperlink to a webpage for required further reading, or as full-featured as official integration with libraries, museums, publishers or corporate records to bring content into course files.
The easier it is to integrate or bundle third party content, the easier your job will be.
Once built, your course material represents time, and – therefore – money. Regardless of the often-intangible value it adds to the experience of your workforce, it’s a tangible asset that soon falls idle, so consider packaging it to sell to other operators in your market segment instead of letting it sit on your intranet, unused.
If that’s something you want to pursue, do your homework prior to choosing a provider and make sure their LMS integrates with payment methods or gateways to make it easy to buy and analytics so you can prove how popular your courses have been.
You might not think large corporate standards and practices apply to you, but some regulations apply to even the smallest SME. Any business dealing with foodstuffs, for example, has to be certified by the relevant state or city-level health authority. Make sure you’re aware of requirements that apply to your industry, and if you’re designing courses with an LMS to meet them, be certain the content complies with the requirements.
Many LMS programs also provide records of training, certifications, and reporting logs to show that employees have completed compliance training. Look for printable logs or connections to local compliance agencies.Mobile and tablet accessibility
Your people are busy. Completing training is just one of the things they have to do during their day. In this era of teleworking and bring your own device (BYOD), they’re going to access course content every which way – from their work PC to their phone handset and from their smart TV to their tablet laying in bed.
It’s not just a matter of designing your coursework to display properly on every kind of screen and device. You have to pick a platform where multi-device user-facing interface capability is built in from the ground up.
White label customization
It’s pretty hard to get past the generic user interfaces offered by LMS platforms simply because they have to be displayed a certain way on screen according to their underlying programming.
But you want your learning to at least look like your own product, and if you want to bundle and sell courses as a service, you definitely want to advertise your own company rather than some third party.
That makes choosing a system that lets you apply your company’s aesthetic personality through fonts, colors, logos, and layout important. And the more freedom your LMS platform gives you to personalise the front end experience, the more engaging it will be to your staff and customers downstream.
An at-a-glance picture of your users’ progress in their training is invaluable to tighten up and improve your approach. Analytics will tell you know where everyone is in the pipeline, how long it’s taking them to get there, who’s finished, which lessons are taking the longest and why.
Identifying bottlenecks or lessons everyone seems to breeze through on a course-wide basis will show you where your questions might be too easy, too hard or simply too boring. Surveys about the content, engagement and user satisfaction can augment your findings and even go into the analytics dataset to further finesse the signals.
It all gives you the means to make changes to content or apply incentives or gamification-style rewards to encourage users over a hump, and it’s far more scientific than just asking ‘what did you think of the course?’
Match LMS to Your Business Needs
With more LMS systems in reach, business owners can choose from a host of features and functionalities. Is your business in a regulated industry? Are compliance requirements a factor? If so, Medakovic says, “Accurate and detailed reporting is a core feature.” Even a very small food-handling company will need to demonstrate that they have completed the necessary health and safety training. An LMS system that can track those records and produce them when needed is vital.
Knowing how an LMS system develops and delivers content will also help steer entrepreneurs toward the right product. Corsello suggests asking each potential vendor how its system approaches content. “Does it require your company to provide its own content and upload it? What other content sources are available out of the box?”
Most modern LMS systems make it easy to upload and curate internally-developed content, but the decision to create that content is something your business should firm up before finalizing the purchase. It’s also useful to know if you can bundle third-party content—TED Talks is just one example—as part of the system.
Future-proof Your LMS Software
Training programs are never static; new classes, new content, new requirements and even new formats come out all the time. Medakovic encourages business owners to consider how their system will handle tomorrow’s needs. “Make sure your LMS supports the latest formats for content,” he says. “A platform that’s compatible with the most popular authoring tools on the market is essential.” And be sure to consider whether the LMS supports a range of mobile platforms—an increasingly popular way for employees to access training.
Even the training strategies will change over time. For example, the concept of self-directed training is gaining speed in the learning and development world. “Employees want to learn things they care about,” he explains. Employees eager to land a promotion or move forward in their careers may want to develop skills in a specific area. “The ability to provide self-directed types of content is a big trend,” says Corsello.
The manager or business owner may require specific training, but they might choose to offer their employees optional courses, as well. Self-directed learning gives workers a way to pick the training that suits their needs.
Be Prepared for Your LMS Software
Today’s LMS software systems are relatively easy to launch, and many of them take only a few days to install and populate. But before any of that happens, your business needs to have its learning strategy in place. “What types of development and training do you need to provide?” Corsello asks.
Different companies opt for different approaches. Some prefer two-minute videos that cover how to safely use a piece of equipment, while others opt for multi-module courses on advanced skills that take weeks to complete. Many businesses use a mix to give everyone the learning opportunities they need.
Once you nail down the types of training to provide, it’s important to identify who will use the system. “Determine when and where employees will need access,” Medakovic says. Different formats provide a better fit depending on your organization’s culture, and how your employees will access and receive training.
Even if you don’t have your entire content library ready to go before you install the LMS system, you must at least have a starting place in mind before firing up a new system. “While every company would love interactive e-learning, most small businesses will launch an LMS just using PDFs and videos,” Medakovic explains.
[Learn: How to Make a Training Video]
Julie Knudson is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in technology magazines including BizTech, Processor, and For The Record. She has covered technology issues for publications in other industries, from food service to insurance, and she also writes a recurring column in Integrated Systems Contractor magazine.
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